Confession: I love nature.
I learned to love it from my family, and especially from the time I spent at my Nana’s house as a young girl. She literally had a forest in her backyard (and a prairie and a garden) and I spent hours and hours playing, relaxing, imagining, reading, living, and loving the natural loveliness of the Iowa outdoors.
And so another confession: Sometimes I just don’t “get it” when people, especially Christians, don’t seem to naturally care about the created world. It seems so instinctive and obvious to me. I don’t understand the lack of appreciation for the Artist’s stunning work.
I know there are reasons that this area of environmental stewardship is controversial — I’ve done quite a bit of reading on the subject — and so, right off the bat, I want to acknowledge that there are clear reasons Christians ought to be concerned (such as when people worship the creation rather than the Creator or when people value animal life above human life).
But I believe we can easily navigate these controversies when we have a right theology. There’s not space here for me to pen a theological treatise on creation care (many others have done so, quite better than I could!) but I do want to explore one idea.
Scripture begins with a truth that underlies all of the subsequent ideas the Bible explores: the world is created by God (Genesis 1-2). And followed soon on the heels of God’s creation of humankind in his image (Genesis 1:27) is the charge for humankind to “rule over” (1:28, NIV) the created world and “to work it and take care of it” (2:15, NIV).
Things get a little dicey when we look at the KJV which says humans are to “subdue” the earth, have “dominion over” it, and “keep it.” These are words charged with power and authority — like a king of old who can, wily-nily, decide this or that for his own pleasure. These words can be a bit dangerous if they are not understood in context.
Did God create the earth for humankind to use its resources? Absolutely. In fact, the rich and stunning potential of earth’s resources for human innovation is pretty amazing and another reason to praise him! It’s another source of God’s provision for us!
But we must understand that we are to “rule” or “have dominion” in God’s image. Before these tasks are given, the nature of who we are made to be is made clear: “in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
We are to rule as God rules, to care for as God cares for.
What is God’s character like? Powerful? Yes. But not wasteful, careless, and certainly not selfish. God is wise, he is true, he is beautiful and peaceful, he is creative and artful, he is both just and loving. His power is tempered with tenderness. As we seek to understand our proper place in the created world — tasked by God with stewardship of this environment — we are to steward in his image, in a way that reflects God’s character.